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July 26, 2011

Go You Several Britches!

The colorful 1978 Georgia-Auburn game: the Tigers in orange tops, Dawgs in red bottoms 
When I heard last week that Georgia would be wearing new uniforms for the season opener against Boise State, I recalled the last time the Bulldogs tried for a new look.  Notice I said "tried," as Georgia, looking more like Grambling State or a team from the now-defunct XFL, presented itself nearly as badly in appearance as it did in performance as the Bulldogs were soundly defeated in their new attire in 2009 by No. 1-ranked Florida.   

Personally, I don't mind a little alteration in uniform every once in a while by the Bulldogs; however, if the change is to something on the order of what has been rumored, my only hope is Georgia plays much better than it looks (and the new unis are retired before the following Saturday vs. South Carolina).  

Being a Bulldog history buff, I'm very much a traditionalist; couple that with the fact Georgia has seldom changed its look over the years compared to other football programs (whether helmets, or otherwise), and a drastic change in appearance can be difficult for some old-school fans to swallow. 

With Coach Wally Butts' arrival in 1939 came the silver helmet-red jersey-silver pants look which would nearly go unchanged for a quarter-century until Vince Dooley came to UGA.  Later, Coach Ray Goff kept the then-existing look over his entire seven seasons, except when he darkened the helmet a bit for a single game.  

Prior to apparently monkeying around with other coaches' money, Coach Jim Donnan often did the same with the Bulldogs' appearance in a short period of time, promptly adding a black stripe to the helmet in 1996, which would only last as long as the coach's tenure at UGA.  Donnan also introduced black pants in the 1998 Outback Bowl, which Georgia wore again the following season in yet again, another dismantling by the Gators.  Admirably, Donnan reintroduced white pants in 1999 after a 20-year hiatus in memory of deceased assistant coach Pat Watson.

In addition, and in no particular order, here is my opinion of the most notable uniform changes in the modern era of Georgia football:

Vince Revamps Uniform: With the arrival of 31-year-old Coach Dooley and athletic director Joel Eaves in 1963, changes needed to be immediately made to Georgia's, at the time, losing image and for Vince, that included to the uniform.  Believing there was too much emphasis on silver - the color of both the team's helmet and pants, but not even an official color of the school - Dooley introduced red helmets and white pants.  Reportedly, some alumni were very skeptical of the change, citing that it could "hurt the team in some way."  In the process, Georgia also lost its rallying cry, Go You Silver Britches, at least for a little while.  However, added (to the helmet) was the distinguished "G" logo that so many would become familiar with over the following decades.    

Red Britches: Many Georgia fans identify the Bulldogs' old red pants with Herschel Walker's first game at Tennessee in 1980 but the britches actually debuted two years earlier at South Carolina.  Over a period of 11 seasons from 1978 to 1988, Georgia wore the pants a combined 15 times in six different seasons.  From 1978 through the 1980 season opener, the Bulldogs donned the red britches in all eight of their games in which they wore road white jerseys.  They wouldn't be seen again until the 1985 Clemson game in Death Valley after being suggested by equipment manager Howard Beavers to Coach Dooley.  Although Georgia lost only three times it sported the red pants, the unusual britches were retired in 1988 just like they had been unveiled 10 years earlier - with a loss in Columbia by double digits.

A Short-Term Solution: The most unusual of all Georgia football uniform changes has to be when the Bulldogs added a red square-style "G" to both sides of their helmets during the 1962 season.  For nearly 25 years, Georgia had worn a plain silver helmet but suddenly, evidently in the middle of Coach Johnny Griffith's second of three seasons, the very first UGA football helmet decal in history was unveiled.  Why the change and why during the season?  I have no clue...maybe Georgia was hoping the "G" would help reverse its bad fortune as the Bulldogs were enduring their ninth non-winning campaign in 14 years.  Reportedly, Georgia displayed the decal for three games that season: Florida State (5th game of season), Auburn (9th game and likely Griffith's biggest win in his three seasons), and Georgia Tech (10th and final game).  As curiously as it came, the "G" disappeared in 1963 for Griffith's third and final year.   

Back In Black?: I've been to few Georgia football games that had as much buzz and excitement than when the Bulldogs ran out in black jerseys against Auburn in 2007.  Nearly as stirring was the debate on whether or not Georgia had worn black before.  Initially, the black jerseys were considered a first but then a photo (or two) surfaced depicting Frank Sinkwich in a black jersey (noticed the arm stripes) apparently while at Georgia during the early-40s.  However, in all my research, I had never read of or seen in any game photo (or two) the Bulldogs wearing black jerseys (notice no arm stripes).  After the Auburn victory, Dan Magill declared the black jerseys were a UGA football first while Charley Trippi told me prior to the 2008 Alabama game that the Dogs in his day never wore any colored top except red and white.  In  my opinion, case closed.  Speaking of Alabama...  Wearing the black jerseys for a third time in nine games (2007-2008), the Bulldogs were throttled by the Tide and the dark-colored tops haven't been seen since.

Go You Silver Britches II: On Picture Day of 1980, Coach Dooley brought back the tradition he had halted 16 years earlier with the second coming of the silver britches.  Revealed at Woodruff Field, the team’s practice grounds, in front of approximately 2,000 fans, the new pants were met with varying opinions.  When asked if he liked the new tradition, eventual All-American Scott Woerner responded, "That remains to be seen."  While Leroy Dukes, a member of the last Georgia team to wear silver britches in 1963, was present passing out hats that declared, “Go You Silver Britches," and distributing bumper stickers with the same slogan.  For the second game of the season against Texas A&M, the Bulldogs wore their new pants, which soon became such a sensation that the red was discarded as the team's road pants and the silver was worn for every game.  Fittingly, Georgia would go on to win its first undisputed national championship donned in its new silver britches.

July 13, 2011

It's All About the 'O' Line

  Entering 1983, Georgia was inexperienced at running back but returned a ton
along the offensive line.  The result were holes opened large enough for even
quarterback John Lastinger to run through.
I was asked over the weekend about Georgia's returning experience at the running back position, or lack thereof, since Caleb King's recent dismissal. I quipped that there had been only one other time in history that the Bulldogs' running backs were more inexperienced (1943), and that was only because the war's draft had depleted the entire team, leaving it without a single returning letterman from the year before.

Although I was trying to be somewhat humorous (but likely unsuccessful in my attempt), as it turns out, if "experience" can be measured by the total number of returning rushes as a Bulldog, the 2011 Georgia backs are the greenest since at least the early-70s.

Beginning with the 1973 season (since the year before was the first season freshmen were eligible to play), I figured the total number of returning rushes for Bulldog running backs while at Georgia and entering each season through 2011. Whether a half-, tail-, full-, or scat-, only rushes by running backs were tallied; no quarterbacks, receivers, etc.

In 2011, Georgia returns a mere 89 career carries by Bulldogs currently listed at a running back position (Carlton Thomas- 86, Alexander Ogletree- 2, Wes Van Dyk- 1), or the fewest amount of all 39 seasons since 1973. Even if Richard Samuel's 114 career carries are considered, the total for 2011 would still rank as the 8th lowest.

Listed are Georgia's bottom- and top-five seasons of returning carries (notably, the average of the 39 seasons was 373 returning carries):

BOTTOM
2011 (89 carries)
1990 (92)
2009 (115)
2003 (120)
1995 (145)

TOP
1982 (929 carries)
2007 (788)
2006 (770)
1981 (755)
1986 (648)

Admittedly, this doesn't indicate much besides maybe Georgia has entered two of the last three seasons with inexperience at the running back position and, primarily because of Herschel Walker, apparently the opposite was true in the early-80s.

I doubted it, but wondered if there was any significant correlation between the number of returning carries for Georgia entering a season and its year-end rushing totals?

Listed are Georgia's bottom and top seasons of returning carries with the team's yards-per-game rushing average for each year (yards-per-rush average in parenthesis):

BOTTOM
2011: To be determined, and hopeful
1990: 152 ypg (3.6 ypr)
2009: 161 (4.7)
2003: 135 (3.4)
1995: 149 (3.9)

TOP
1982: 275 ypg (4.7 ypr)
2007: 177 (4.5)
2006: 127 (3.9)
1981: 282 (4.7)
1986: 255 (4.7)

There appears to be very little, if any, relationship between Georgia's returning experience at the running back position and its year-ending rushing results.

The 2006 season is a good example of when the Dogs returned a heap of carries (primarily from Thomas Brown, Danny Ware, and Kregg Lumpkin) but had minimal rushing success. On the contrary, three years later, Georgia returned little experience at the running back position, but the team would have its best yards-per-rush average (4.68) in 15 years.

A friend of mine mentioned the other day that he didn't mind losing King; Georgia losing Justin Anderson, or some other offensive lineman, would be much more detrimental. I couldn't agree with my friend more. Glancing over the rushing figures and digging a little further, a trend seemed to exist between rushing results and not necessarily returning experience in the offensive backfield, but rather along the offensive line.

For every football season in which Georgia had success running the football, the Bulldogs entered nearly all of those with an experienced offensive line. Whether the team entered with experience at running back or not didn't seem to matter.
Georgia's enters this season similarly to how it did in 2009:
green in the backfield but some experience up front.

Two years ago in 2009, Georgia might have returned only 115 career carries, but the Bulldogs also returned eight different offensive lineman with starting experience, totaling 99 career starts.

In both 1974 (208 returning carries) and 1983 (176) - two seasons which nearly made the "bottom" five list - Georgia had little experience at running back entering the seasons. Heck, in 1983, the Bulldogs had just lost the greatest college running back of all time. However, each team returned experience along the offensive line and, in both instances, it paved the way for successful rushing results:
1974- 237 ypg (4.6 ypr); 1983- 230 ypg (4.4 ypr)*

*In 1983, Georgia's offensive line returned six players, including four starters from '82, who totaled a combined 11 seasons at Georgia as a full- or part-time starter. There was so much depth that junior guard Mike Weaver, a part-time starter in '81 and full-time in '82, was moved over to defense.

In 2003, Georgia returned little at running back (135) and, more importantly, were extremely inexperienced along the offensive line (no returning starters; just two with starting experience, totaling only four career starts). Inexperience was certainly evident as the Bulldogs' 3.36 rushing average at the end of the season was a team low since 1970 while the 47 sacks Georgia yielded (an obvious major contributor to the meager per-rush average) remains the most allowed on record for a single year.

So, to those Dawg fans who are crying and moaning about the losses of Ealey and/or King, there appears to be a more important offensive unit at Georgia to worry about.

In 1990, Georgia returned a next-to-lowest 92 carries but had a relatively experienced line (three returning starters; seven with starting experience). Confident of their strength, the offensive linemen even nicknamed themselves "The Georgia Power Company." By mid-season, a few linemen had endured injuries, players were forced to move positions, and the company's power was turned off as the Bulldogs lost their final four games, finishing with sub-par rushing totals and a 4-7 record.

Twenty years later in 2010, much of the same was evident as Georgia, which entered with supposedly one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the nation, struggled to run the ball against adequate competition.

The Bulldogs' offensive line enters 2011 with little depth but is seemingly one of the most experienced in the SEC (two returning starters; four with starting experience, totaling 86 career starts); one which is certainly capable of opening holes, even for the most inexperienced group of backs.

However, as history has taught, if hardship takes its toll along the all-important offensive line (or its members can't get through summer school), experienced can quickly turn to ineptness, and another seemingly bright season can suffer a power outage.

July 6, 2011

The Last "Neutral-Sited" Season Opener

McKnight ends any hope for an upset in Jackson.
Yesterday, I received an email from a radio station inquiring, prior to this upcoming year, when was the last time Georgia opened up a football season at a neutral site.  Although my reply was rather simple - 1966: Miss. State at Jackson, MS - the Bulldogs' season-opening game of 45 years ago was everything but, as it was rather eventful and truly one of a kind.

Since the NCAA considers, in most cases, a game not being played on either of the two participating teams' home fields to be a "neutral site" game, the Georgia-Miss. State affair in Jackson to open the 1966 season, like the upcoming game against Boise State in the Georgia Dome, was considered a neutral-sited game, although it was far from "neutral" for the Bulldogs from Georgia as they endured the constant clanging of cowbells throughout the road contest. 

In those days, because of stadium size and profitability, Miss. State and Ole Miss often hosted "selected important games" at Jackson's Memorial Stadium even if it meant a 125-mile trip for State from Starkville.  In comparison, the trip from Athens to Jackson is approximately 450 miles, or 100 miles longer than it takes Georgia to get to Starkville.

Nevertheless, there was a time when if Georgia played either State or Ole Miss on the road, it was usually in Jackson.  In fact, from 1952, or shortly after Jackson Memorial Stadium opened, through 1974, Georgia faced MSU and Ole Miss a combined seven times in Jackson, compared to no meetings at either Starkville or Oxford. 

Entering the season opener, both Georgia and State were forecasted by most to rank in the bottom half of the conference.  In 1965, the Bulldogs from Athens had started their season with a perfect 4-0 record and were ranked as high as 4th in the country before losing four of their final six games to finish a disappointing 6 and 4.  State had also started 4-0 but would go on to drop its final six games to end its campaign with a losing mark.  A repeat of records looming around .500 were expected from the two teams in 1966.

Despite his opponent's low expectations, a 34-year-old Coach Vince Dooley had told the media all week to look out for State and, in true Dooley form, had said that they could very well be one of the most underrated teams in all of college football.

The experts didn't heed much warning from the coach and set the long-distant visiting Bulldogs as a five-point favorite for the night game, kicking off at 7:30 local time in front of roughly 35,000 in attendance (many with cowbell in hand).

After a State field goal in the first quarter, Georgia soon faced 3rd and goal from the opponent's 4-yard line.  There, the Bulldogs pulled off a play that has not been executed by Georgia since or likely before. 

Lined up as a guard-eligible receiver, starting left guard Don Hayes drifted all alone over the middle into the end zone, where he caught a pass for a touchdown from quarterback Kirby Moore.  The junior Hayes had caught passes before at Georgia but it was when he was a reserve fullback in 1965 prior to switching over to the guard position.

Interestingly, later that very same year, the NCAA ruled that any player on offense wearing jersey numbers between 50 and 79 were ineligible, in any circumstances, to catch a pass.  Hayes wore No. 67. 

In the second quarter, State regained the lead on a short scoring run by quarterback Don Saget.  Saget had actually been State's starting split end the year before and the team's leading receiver.  In his first varsity game at quarterback, he performed quite well against the visiting Bulldogs, rushing for 50 yards and the aforementioned touchdown while completing 10 of 19 passes for 98 yards, but suffering two costly interceptions. 

Bob Etter, Georgia's diminutive 150-pound placekicker, knotted the score just before halftime with a 29-yard field goal.

Georgia's Kent Lawrence rushed for a score late in the third quarter, but once again State answered when wingback Marcus Rhoden, who ran wild on Georgia all night, scored a touchdown early in the final stanza.

Later in the quarter, Rhoden was handed the ball and sprinted down the field to what seemed to be another State touchdown until he was taken out at Georgia's 8-yard line after a 53-yard gain.  Two plays later, Erk Russell's Georgia defense hunkered down when Saget's pass in the end zone was deflected by safety Lynn Hughes into the awaiting arms of linebacker Happy Dicks for an interception.

Whenever the odds are the longest, then the brave come to the fore. 
When we're up against the strongest, you're a battler - Kirby Moore!
Starting at its own 20 and with the game tied 17-17, Georgia moved 78 yards in 11 plays (Moore rushing for 69 of the yards) to State's 2-yard line.  Etter was called upon again and didn't disappoint as he drilled a seemingly winning 18-yard field goal with 2:08 remaining.  However, State and Saget were far from finished.

Saget moved his Bulldogs down the field, but all hopes for a last-minute victory or tie were dashed when backup cornerback David McKnight intercepted a pass to secure a thrilling 20-17 Georgia victory.  Notably, McKnight was playing in his first game ever on UGA's varsity and would later star in 1968 and 1969 for the Bulldogs at defensive end. 

For Georgia, the win was only its third season-opening victory in 12 years and the third consecutive win over State by exactly three points.  Assistant coach Bill Dooley, brother of Vince and a former State player and assistant, was given the game ball.

Following the game, Vince Dooley said he'd "probably have a heart attack" thinking about his team's numerous mistakes and how close it came to dropping another season opener.  For State, the losing effort might have been the highlight of its season as the Bulldogs were downright dismal the rest of the year.

Miss. State, once thought of as underrated, finished 1966 with just a 2-8 record with wins coming over lowly Richmond and Southern Miss.  Rhoden, who starred against Georgia with 121 rushing yards on 20 carries and 6 catches for 55 yards, would rush for just 174 yards the rest of the season, averaging only just over three yards per carry. 

Quarterback Saget would never be the same either as he went from the team's leading receiver as a sophomore, to State's starting signal caller, to merely the second-string quarterback as a senior in 1967.  At end of the 1966 season, head coach Paul Davis was fired after five seasons at State and would never head coach again in college football.  

Regarding Georgia, the win jump-started the undervalued Bulldogs to an eventual 10-win season, a Cotton Bowl victory, and Dooley's first of six SEC titles.

As for "neutral-sited" games, the Bulldogs had another one the very next week against the Virginia Military Institute, who needed to travel just 50 miles from Lexington, VA, to face the Bulldogs at Roanoke's Victory Stadium for the 10th annual "Harvest Bowl."